Bill MacKenty

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Edward Tufte is a smart guy

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 12 - May 2008 at 06:51 PM (15 years ago). 241 views.

I recently attended a conference by Edward Tufte.  The topic was entitled Presenting Data and Information.

The presentation was brilliant, if for nothing else the thinking about charts and visual data. I read Tufte’s essay on powerpoint and agreed with the main points, but now I am thinking more deeply about how to create more effective and intelligent graphs.

Tufte elaborated on some key points. Most of these are his words (I was taking notes during the lecture).

1. The reason we look at evidence is to establish causality
2. our displays should be formatted to demonstrate causality
3. Anything complicated will require diversity: a plurality of evidence
4. “how can I explain ______” should be the driving conversation when thinking about data. It should not be “how can I best use ___ to explain ___.” It should be how can I explain ____”.
5. Links should have meaning. So there should be information about links (visually and textually)
6. Design should be invisible, users should think about rich and luscious content not paucity of design
7. Maximize content reasoning
8. Minimize how long they are thinking about format
9. Anything complicated requires more than a simple explanation

He then went on to carefully explain the 7 principals of effective information design.


1. Show comparisons, differences, and contrasts
2. Demonstrate causality - how is A related to B?
3. Show multivariate evidence - show more than one thing at one time.
4. Integrate evidence. Completely integrate words, numbers, images diagrams
5. Document everything.
6. Content counts most of all
7. Try to show your stuff up front all at once - adjacent in space - look at comparisons


I’ll be surveying our faculty soon, and I hope to create a graphic using these principals.